Every once in a while, a new invention is created that makes consumers and investors pause and wonder at the genius in its simplicity. Around seven years ago, Dr. Albert Huang was removing part of a diseased colon from a patient’s body when he struggled to find and avoid cutting the patient’s ureter. This is a common occurrence with pelvic surgeries and even the most experienced surgeons struggle to identify and avoid the small muscle hidden under multiple layers of tissue. By the end of the procedure, Dr. Huang found himself thinking up new ideas that would make locating the ureter much faster and safer. His ideas began to solidify during a quiet moment in front of his computer. The next thing he knew he was building a prototype and scouring eBay and Radio Shack looking for spare parts. He was making progress towards solving this monumental problem, but he was going to need to make some tough decisions in order to go from Frankenstein prototype to full-blown startup. Dr. Huang resolved to leave active practice in order to pursue his idea, a daunting task considering the lifetime of training it took to become a surgeon. He knew the rare opportunity that he had to make an impact and save lives.
Dr. Huang came to view the pause in his surgical career “[…] as an opportunity rather than a sacrifice.” His unique background as a practicing surgeon has proven invaluable in the development of his company, Allotrope Medical. He knows the atmosphere of the operating room and he understands the needs of the doctors, assistants, and most importantly the patients. Dr. Huang is also keenly aware of the standards medical professionals have for new technology. He used all of this information, in addition to his expertise in human anatomy, to create StimSite.
StimSite simply but elegantly helps surgeons identify and safely work around the ureter during pelvic surgeries and procedures. The ureter is a smooth muscle structure that can blend into the surrounding tissue making it difficult to see. Each year, 1% or more of procedures result in accidental harm to the patient’s ureter. Dr. Huang concluded that by generating an electrical signal, similar to that created by the brain of a conscious patient, he could make the ureter move on demand and become distinguishable among the pelvic tissue. This small movement would make it easier to locate the ureter, decreasing the time surgeons spend trying to identify and avoid the ureter and also significantly decreasing the risk of accidentally injuring this small but vital structure.
After much trial-and-error, StimSite was finally ready and it was time for Allotrope Medical to seek outside investment. “Taking and sharing your vision is always hard to do,” commented Dr. Huang, “How do you [take] what’s in your brain and share that passion?” Dr. Huang’s idea is obviously good, but his mindset is even better. He has the drive and creativity to support his ambitions and the charisma required to make others believe in his company as well. It should come as no surprise that Allotrope Medical and StimSite quickly caught the eye of investors, in particular the Aggie Angel Network. In June 2020 Dr. Huang competed in the virtual Texas A&M New Ventures Competition (TNVC) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and won first place and $50,000. In addition to the first-place winnings, Allotrope Medical received the Aggie Angel Network Special Investment Prize.
The TNVC prize money combined with other investments meant that Dr. Huang had finally secured the funding he needed to move forward with manufacturing StimSite. Dr. Huang was notified in November 2020 that StimSite was awarded FDA clearance making Allotrope Medical one of the few MedTech companies within the Texas Medical Center to receive clearance to bring their technology through hospital doors. After his positive interaction with Aggie Angel Network (AAN), Dr. Huang approached the angel investment group and offered an additional investment opportunity for AAN members as Allotrope began to close on their Series A. AAN members have a keen sense for a good opportunity and invested an additional $300,000 in Dr. Huang’s startup in early 2021.
Dr. Huang commented that StimSite is already having an impact on the medical field. Doctors he has never met in cities he has never been to are using his technology on patients he’s never seen. Some surgeons filmed themselves using StimSite and presented the recordings at classes and symposiums. This enthusiastic adoption from the medical community further validates the major need that StimSite is filling for surgeons across the United State and soon, around the world.
Dr. Albert Huang grew up asking questions and with a desire to understand how the world around him works. He restored vintage cars and motorcycles during his years in medical school. He has always been looking behind the curtain, trying to learn how things work and can be made even better. He worked hard to become a doctor to help other people, but when he found another way to assist mankind, he was willing to focus everything he had on an innocuous thought that grew into something more. His advice to other entrepreneurs is to tell them it’s doable. That dream you’ve had since you were a kid, that passing idea that you came up with during lunch, it’s all doable. And there are people out there who are willing to help you. There are people out there that want to make the world better and will listen to you as long as you, too, are asking questions. If you too are also pulling back the curtain and looking at the world around you with a perceptive eye. To those who are ready to follow in the steps of Dr. Albert Huang, it may be time to take that leap of faith.
2022 RANKINGS HIGHLIGHT MAYS BUSINESS SCHOOL’S MBA EMPLOYMENT SUCCESS
COLLEGE STATION, TX, March 30, 2021 – Texas A&M’s Full-Time MBA (FTMBA) program has been named a top 20 U.S. Public program, according to the 2022 rankings released by U.S. News & World Report. Offered through Mays Business School, the FTMBA program ranks as the #16 public program in the U.S. and #38 overall, an improvement of four and six spots, respectively. The FTMBA also ranked #4 among U.S. Public programs in terms of the employment rate three months after graduation, a testament to the quality of the Aggie Network. The School’s Professional MBA (PMBA) program – offered from the Houston CityCentre campus – was also ranked with positions of #23 for public programs in the U.S. and #39 overall.
Detailed descriptions of the methodology used to determine the rankings are available at U.S. News and World Report’s site. The methodology includes criteria such as peer school assessment score (25%), mean GMAT and GRE scores (16.25%), recruiter assessment score (15%), mean starting salary and bonus (14%), employment rate three months after graduation (14%), and other factors.
“The entire MBA Programs office is geared toward preparing our students for success,” shared Arvind Mahajan, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Graduate Programs for Mays Business School. “From full-circle leadership development to high-impact opportunities in our MBA Venture Challenge, to students hosting and running the Humana-Mays Healthcare Data Analytics Case Competition – faculty, staff, and administration lead the way to develop students who will advance the world’s prosperity, our vision at Mays Business School. Students receiving benefit and returning the favor to the Aggie Network makes it worth the intensive effort.”
“Please allow me to express very sincere congratulations to students, faculty, staff, and the entire Mays leadership team regarding these prestigious outcomes for our MBA programs,” shared Duane Ireland, Ph.D., Acting Dean for Mays Business School. “These rankings demonstrate that Mays Business School is achieving success with efforts to achieve its mission of being a vibrant learning organization that creates impactful knowledge and develops transformational leaders.”
Applications for Texas A&M’s MBA programs are being accepted now for the class of 2023. For more information, visit: mba.tamu.edu
By Blake Parrish, Mays Business School Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations
About Mays Business School
At Mays Business School, our vision is to advance the world’s prosperity. Our mission is to be a vibrant learning organization that creates impactful knowledge and develops transformational leaders. Mays Business School educates more than 6,400 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing, and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools for its programs and faculty research.
Media contact: Blake Parrish, Mays Business School Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Texas High School Ideas Challenge is based on the highly successful Raymond Ideas Challenge. For two decades the Raymond Ideas Challenge has only been available for Texas A&M Current students. Applications for the Texas High School Ideas Challenge close on March 31, are online, and do not require a formalized business, business plan, or prototype. Students are only required to submit an idea but must do so in a compelling manner that displays the idea’s viability, unique nature, and the problem that their idea attempts to address.
The mission of the public education system of the state of Texas is to ensure that all Texas children have access to a quality education that enables them to achieve their potential and fully participate in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of the state and nation. In 2019, Texas small businesses employed 45% of the Texas workforce, a clear indicator of the essential role that entrepreneurs play in driving the social and economic opportunities of the state. The Texas High School Ideas Challenge aligns with the mission of the Texas public education system by providing high school students with a highly accessible avenue to engage with entrepreneurship as a potential career opportunity regardless of if a student pursues higher education.
In addition to supporting the mission of the Texas public education system, the Texas High School Ideas Challenge supports the Mays Business School’s grand challenge of entrepreneurship and improving economic development by cultivating and empowering the next generation of Texas entrepreneurs. Blake Petty, Executive Director of the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship commented, “For twenty years, our Raymond Ideas Challenge has celebrated the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of our Aggies here on campus. We’re excited to now expand our scope across the state, in support of these creative problem-solvers while they are still in High School. We can’t wait to see all the inventive new ideas from Texas’ next great generation of entrepreneurs!”.
Dr. James Gaines, chief economist and director of research at the Texas Real Estate Research Center, and Research Economist Dr. Ali Anari have retired.
During his 15 years at the Center, Gaines specialized in housing and land development issues. He was the author of more than 50 Center reports and articles and the organization’s principal speaker.
Previously, Gaines spent 16 years with KPMG and Arthur Andersen providing real estate consulting services. He also served five years as president of the Rice Center, an urban research center affiliated with Rice University.
His decades of experience included a broad array of professional activities, primarily in real estate research and education, urban economics, land-use analysis and development, and project risk assessment. Gaines worked extensively with major corporations, developers, investors, financial institutions, and government agencies across the country. …Read more
COLLEGE STATION, TX – November 19, 2020 – The student team of Alexander Kondziolka and Jonathon Thierer from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has won the $40,000 First Place prize in the Humana-Mays Health Care Analytics 2020 Case Competition sponsored by health and well-being company Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) and Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.
Over 700 master’s level students representing over 70 major universities in the U.S. registered for the national competition to compete for $70,000 in total prizes. The fourth annual competition was held virtually and was open to all accredited educational institutions based in the United States. Full-time and part-time master’s students from accredited Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Information Systems, Master of Public Health, Master of Business Administration programs, or other similar master’s programs in business, healthcare, or analytics, were eligible to enter.
Alexander Kondziolka and Jonathon Thierer received the top prize following a virtual presentation on Thursday, Nov. 12 to an executive panel of judges. The Second-Place prize of $20,000 was awarded to Christopher Painton, Yilun Sun, and Ruiwen Wang from the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business, while the Third-Place prize of $10,000 was presented to Kamala Pillai, Jack Sampiere, and Chloe Xu from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Anderson School of Management.
“Advanced analytics have helped Humana identify those members who are at the highest risk for COVID-19 in order to make quick and personal outreach to them,” said Heather Cox, Chief Digital Health and Analytics Officer for Humana. “This is just one example of how analytics can enhance our industry in resolving challenges and help us deliver better care and improve outcomes. This year’s participants applied similar ingenuity and thoughtfulness to their approaches and ideas, and their dedication to finding solutions was remarkable.”
The analytics case received by the students was designed to be multi-faceted and complex, similar to a real-world business problem. This year’s competition focused on social determinants of healthcare that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Transportation challenges are one of these determinants. Students were asked to create a model to predict which Medicare members are most likely struggling with these issues. The goal was to propose solutions for overcoming these barriers to accessing care and achieving members’ best health.
“Mays Business School is a model academic institution championing responsible research and teaching on every aspect of decision making in businesses. To that end, I am pleased that the students’ analyses will help Humana shape the way the industry delivers healthcare,” says Arvind Mahajan, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at Mays Business School. “This case study is an example of how students learn to apply their analytical skills to solve complex business problems which can have a social impact, and in this case, improve the lives of patients and their families.”
The teams were judged based on the following criteria:
Quantitative analysis identifying key business insights
Professionalism, data visualization, and presentation skills
Ability to provide meaningful implications and recommendations based on results/insights
This is the fourth year of the competition, which has grown to be one of the top healthcare analytics case competitions in country.
Mays is a full-service business school that steps up to advance the world’s prosperity. Our mission is to be a vibrant learning organization that creates impactful knowledge and develops transformational leaders. Mays Business School educates more than 6,400 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its programs and for faculty research.
Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) is committed to helping our millions of medical and specialty members achieve their best health. Our successful history in care delivery and health plan administration is helping us create a new kind of integrated care with the power to improve health and well-being and lower costs. Our efforts are leading to a better quality of life for people with Medicare, families, individuals, military service personnel, and communities at large.
To accomplish that, we support physicians and other health care professionals as they work to deliver the right care in the right place for their patients, our members. Our range of clinical capabilities, resources and tools – such as in-home care, behavioral health, pharmacy services, data analytics and wellness solutions – combine to produce a simplified experience that makes health care easier to navigate and more effective.
More information regarding Humana is available to investors via the Investor Relations page of the company’s web site at www.humana.com, including copies of:
Annual reports to stockholders
Securities and Exchange Commission filings
Most recent investor conference presentations
Quarterly earnings news releases and conference calls
The Global Consortium for Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) recently honored the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship with the 2020 Exceptional Contributions in Entrepreneurship Research Award. GCEC awards are designed to showcase and celebrate the very best of university entrepreneurship.
The award for Exceptional Contribution in Entrepreneurship Research honors a center that is dedicated to supporting the creation of new entrepreneurship knowledge through research that advances the discipline. Dr. Michael Howard, Academic Director of the McFerrin Center, commented, “the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M supports and advances world-class research in the field of Strategic Entrepreneurship; the study of how and why some organizations – whether start-ups or established firms – are successful in identifying and pursuing new entrepreneurial opportunities, while others are not. Our scholars have established an impressive track record of entrepreneurship research, publishing and often serving as editors or editorial board members in top academic journals, demonstrating the broad impact of our center in the academic community.”
This is the 2nd GCEC award for the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship. Blake Petty ’98, Executive Director of the McFerrin Center, commented, “GCEC represents the world’s premier university-based entrepreneurship programs, and the McFerrin Center is incredibly proud to be recognized for Texas A&M’s world-class research across such a wide spectrum of entrepreneurial topics.”
Entrepreneurship Centers who receive this award are evaluated upon the following criteria:
Volume of research produced by those associated with the entrepreneurship center or program
Quality of outlets in which the research was published or disseminated
Potential of the research to significantly advance the discipline of entrepreneurship
Number of faculty and staff involved with entrepreneurship research
Support for research in the discipline of entrepreneurship beyond publishing (e.g., reviewing, journal management, hosting conferences, serving as discussant)
Demonstrated ability to connect research efforts to other aspects of center programming (e.g., teaching, co-curricular programs, community engagement)
In addition, Texas A&M University won 2nd place in the 2020 SEC Student Pitch Competition. Stephanie Young ’21 represented the University at this year’s competition where she pitched her vet-tech startup, SKYPaws, LLC. SKYPaws is a novel medical device that provides accurate, real-time post-operative animal patient data for veterinarians and their staff. The device is an integral tool for saving patient lives and identifying postoperative complications. The McFerrin Center is responsible for identifying a student entrepreneur to represent Texas A&M University at the annual competition. McFerrin Center Assistant Director LauraLee Hughes ’08 worked closely with Young to prepare for this year’s competition. “Stephanie is a great example of the entrepreneurial spirit and student talent at Texas A&M, and we are so proud of her taking second place at this year’s SEC Pitch Competition. She worked persistently leading up to the competition on perfecting her pitch, which conveyed not only a very compelling business opportunity but her undeniable passion for making the SKYPaws device a reality. We are excited for Stephanie to add this as one of her many entrepreneurial achievements while at Texas A&M and look forward to her continued success,” said Hughes.
On Tuesday, November 17, 2020, Texas A&M University was once again recognized by The Princeton Review as a top university for both graduate and undergraduate students interested in entrepreneurship. This is the fourth consecutive year that Texas A&M University has been included in the Princeton Review ranking. This year, Texas A&M was ranked #35 for Undergraduate students and #26 for Graduate students. The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship is responsible for providing a ranking application to Princeton Review each year.
The 2020 Raymond Ideas Challenge took place on Sunday, November 15. The day-long competition was converted to a completely online ecosystem to ensure that the 20-year tradition would take place regardless of the state of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The annual competition challenges undergraduate and graduate students at Texas A&M to dream up the next big innovation that will change the world. The mission of Raymond Ideas Challenge is to encourage students to develop their idea and their entrepreneurial mindset; the student’s ideas should be novel, feasible, and impactful while also solving a problem.
Although many students apply each year, only 40 teams are selected to participate on competition day. The Top 40 finalists compete in front of over 75 experienced judges and entrepreneurs from the business and academic ecosystems. Finalists are then invited to pitch their idea during two rounds of judging. The finalist’s presentation can only be 5 minutes long, and each finalist receives 5 minutes for Q&A. During Q&A, judges are encouraged to challenge the participants to think about their idea like a true entrepreneur. The interactive approach provides students with valuable experience in developing business concepts, writing skills, and presentation abilities that will be pivotal in their professional careers.
Julia Felder ’24 and Carmen Gaas ’24 won 1st place and $2,000 for their idea, Alzheimer’s Gamma Frequency Therapeutic Device. This non-invasive, wearable device emits gamma frequencies that suppress the production of amino acids found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. The device consists of two parts, a specialized pair of glasses and earbuds that work together to promote brain function without impairing the wearer’s daily life. “We want to inspire the next generation of inter-disciplinary female innovators to persist through the challenges they face and achieve things that they previously thought were impossible,” commented Gaas.
The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship would like to recognize the individuals and businesses that supported the 2020 competition. In particular, they extend thanks to the program’s underwriter, The Frank and Jean Raymond Foundation, and 2020 prize sponsor, Frogslayer. Combined, their financial support provided $10,000 in awarded prize money. Raymond Ideas Challenge is held each fall semester annually. For more information, visit mcferrin.tamu.edu.
2020 Raymond Ideas Challenge Winners:
First Place Award of $2,000: Alzheimer’s Gamma Frequency Therapeutic Device – Julia Felder ’24, Carmen Gaas ’24
Second Place Award of $1,500 sponsored by Frogslayer: Ai-RIS the Portable Retinal Imaging System – Marcus DeAyala, Tokunbo Falohun, Daniel Kermany, Harsha Mohan, Amir Tofighi Zavareh, Uthej Vattipalli
Third Place Award of $1,000 sponsored by Frogslayer: Wax-stic: The Wax That Replaces Plastic – Grant Hankins ’21, Jack Stewart ’21, Ty Thibodeaux ’21
Fourth Place Award of $850: Card Stock Exchange – Joseph Escobar ’22
Fifth Place Award of $650: Chronos 360 – Hassan Anifowose ’23
Sixth Place Award of $450: On.ai – Sanjay Kumaran ’23
Honorable Mentions – $250 Awarded to each winner
Construction Shield – Pepito Thelly ’22
InterChange – Laura Tolan ’21
Career Readiness Marketplace for the 21st Century Workforce – Naomi Woods ’24
Virus Breathalyzer: Detecting Bugs with a Single Breath – Nathaniel Fernandes ’24
Dan Tinker ’96 has had many notable mentors and confidants who have helped to support him throughout his career. Now, as the President and CEO of SRS Distribution, Tinker wants to provide the same support structure for his employees. Tinker graduated in May of 1996 with a degree in Industrial Distribution from the Texas A&M University College of Engineering. He credits the Department of Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University for having a major impact on his career and success. “It prepared me really well for leadership and for managing people and leading teams.” Tinker went on to describe how the ID program provided him with a strong technical background while at the same time providing holistic business education. From finance to strategy, to operations it gave him a well-rounded view of how engineering and business can be used together as a powerful tool.
Tinker is a visionary who fully embraces the entrepreneurial mindset of “Dream big. Be Bold.” He isn’t intimidated by hard work and thrives whenever he faces a problem that seems insurmountable. Throughout his career, he’s lived by the adage of “Small goals don’t stir people’s souls.” Tinker has learned first-hand that when you challenge yourself and your team to achieve impossible milestones that is when the magic happens. It hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn and along the way people have doubted him. “I don’t know if anyone but me early on believed that we were going to achieve what I told them we were going to go do,” commented Tinker. Time and time again, he’s proven that there’s no value in shying away from your passions and goals. It’s only when you are all-in and fully committed to your dreams that you can convince others to do the same.
For Tinker, the best way to encourage others to buy into your big, hairy, audacious goals is by fostering strong company culture. He wants to hire talented people and inspire passion in them by creating a corporate environment that makes them excited to go to work every day. “I want people to get a speeding ticket on the way to work, not on the way home from work. You have to create the right environment to make that happen,” he commented. “I believe talent trumps strategy every time, but the talent is wasted if they’re not engaged and fully passionate about the work they’re doing, the vision of the company, and the mission of the company. Have you ever seen a company with good customer service but bad morale? It doesn’t exist! You can’t do it.”
Tinker engages his highly talented employees by actively living the Aggie values of Respect and Selfless Service. “We want to bring talent here and build wonderful careers for people and change their lives for the better. You end up serving them. As CEO, I’m the lowest person in the company and my job is to serve everyone above me. The front-line employees who serve the customer are at the top.” For Tinker, CEO stands for Chief Excuse Elimination Officer. He believes that his most important role is to eliminate all obstacles and provide all of the resources that their people need to succeed. “That’s my job. I want 5,500 people to come to work that are smarter than me and harder working than me and as a result, they drive the business and I provide them all of the resources and the environment for them to thrive and have fun.” That commitment to culture is evident in the SRS Distribution mission statement; “make money, have fun, give back.” Tinker commented that at SRS Distribution, “We’ve chosen to be a people-first and a culture-led company and a big part of that is a dedication to others and service to others.”
How do you inspire an employee workforce of several thousand individuals? For Tinker, it’s simple.
“The way you do that, in our mindset is to let [our employees] be the entrepreneur.” He wants his team to take ownership of their role in the company and let them be the strategist locally. Tinker wants his team to know that their input and decision-making skills are valued by the company and that they are trusted by leadership to make calls independent of the corporate mandate. Rather than trying to force a cookie-cutter approach on their 390 locations, SRS Distribution instead provides centralized tools and resources, such as technology support and talent management, and encourages their employees to leverage an entrepreneurial mindset. “All of our employees think of themselves as owners and founders of the company. They have a different level of pride and engagement.” This commitment to employee empowerment and success is evident through the SRS Distribution employee shareholder program. All 5,500 employees have some sort of equity in the company. “Every time we’ve sold the company or had a liquidity event every employee stockholder got a payout. In fact, we’ve already made over 115 millionaires in the company, from the employees, and my goal is to make hundreds more in the next 5 years. We have a warehouse worker in Portland who makes $18/hour and is already a millionaire because of his small investment in the company in 2008,” said Tinker. “That’s the fun part. You can have great financial success and not keep it all at the top. You can share it broadly if you have the right structure and right equity program.”
For an Aggie entrepreneur who is so fiercely passionate about selfless service and supporting the goals and dreams of others, it would be remiss not to include recognition of the individuals who have played a major role in supporting Tinker’s career. The most notable champion for Tinker’s career is his wife, Audrey Tinker ’96. “My wife is the smart one in the family. She has her Ph.D., Masters, and Undergrad all from A&M and has taught at A&M. All I know is how to sell stuff for more than I paid for it. She’s the real brains of the family,” said Tinker. The two met freshman year in college and have been together ever since. She played a huge role in his career since Tinker’s first job out of college. At the ripe age of 22, Tinker was able to convince the leadership at Cameron Ashley Building Products to promote him to the branch manager. “It was a hard sell, but they did give me the worst branch in the company which was in Little Rock.” Audrey agreed to uproot her life in Texas to move to Arkansas so that Tinker could pursue his career. In just 1-year Dan turned that branch from “dead worst” to branch of the year out of 165 locations. During his time reinvigorating the Little Rock branch, Tinker experienced tremendous growth as a leader. He learned how to motivate your team to be passionate about their work. He discovered the impact that a talented, experienced employee can have on a team’s morale and a business’s bottom line. Tinker distinguished himself as a force in Little Rock. It wouldn’t have happened without Audrey by his side.
Another individual who was monumental in supporting Tinker is Mr. Ronald Ross, Chairman of the Board at SRS Distribution being one in particular. Tinker met Ross while he was a student at Texas A&M and Ross was serving on the advisory board for the Department of Industrial Distribution. For over 2 decades Ross has served as a mentor and font of wisdom for Tinker. “We have a great friendship. I consider him to be a second father to me. He was a mentor right out of college and taught me how to acquire businesses, how to value companies, and the operations of the business as well,” said Tinker. Ross was actually responsible for hiring Tinker at Cameron Ashley Building Products. He is also a co-founder of SRS Distribution alongside Tinker. “It started with buying a small bankrupt company in Florida that only had 6 locations and 30 million in sales. In the past twelve and a half years we’ve done 84 acquisitions, 133 greenfield new openings, and our sales are now approaching 4 billion.” Ross’s wisdom, leadership, and mentorship have been integral to the leader that Tinker is today.
Dan Tinker ’96 is the President and CEO of an almost $4 billion-dollar company. He’s a living example of how the education and values provided by Texas A&M can serve as a springboard for success. But the greatest lesson that can be learned from the story of the 2020 Summit Award Recipient is that when you treat people with respect and invite them to be a part of your dreams, great things can and will happen.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread lockdown associated with it has been a shock to most organizations, causing leaders to adapt to the impacts of sudden changes to the way they do business with external stakeholders (e.g., customers) as well as how they manage their workforce. As we have seen, the severity of this shock has created immense challenges for even the most stable and well-resourced firms. For businesses that are resource constrained or that operate in unstable environments, which includes most entrepreneurial firms and small businesses, this unforeseen shock may pose an existential threat to their ability to stay in business.
The enormous amount of information that is being disseminated concerning the situation, much of which is contradictory, has only compounded the effect of the pandemic and lockdown on leaders’ abilities to chart a course through this crisis. At the same time, there is much more unknown than known about COVID-19. This creates a state of affairs in which there is too much data for leaders to digest, and in spite of this information overload, there is also more uncertainty about the future than most leaders have ever faced. Again, even CEOs of large organizations, who have entire teams of advisors, have admitted that they do not know how the next two to three years will unfold. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, trying to balance the wave of data that this crisis is generating and plot a path forward into the murky future can be particularly overwhelming and depleting.
Fortunately for many entrepreneurs and small business owners, they are not alone in their struggle to respond to the pandemic and the lockdown. Although it is common to portray small and entrepreneurial ventures as being led by a lone individual at the top of the organization the reality is that the majority of these firms are helmed by a team. In my research on new venture teams, I define these people as “the group of individuals that is chiefly responsible for the strategic decision making and ongoing operations of a new venture.” While this definition focuses on firms in the early stages of the entrepreneurial process, companies at all stages of development tend to have some form of top management team that collectively guides the organization.
The distinction between the lone entrepreneur and a venture team is important. Research has shown that teams have advantages over individuals when it comes to decision making. Teams can gather more information, offer more perspectives, and develop a greater number of approaches, often leading to more creative and effective solutions than those generated by individual decision-makers. Another advantage of team-based decision making involves what happens after the decision is made. Specifically, rather than a single leader having to explain to employees why the decision was made and trying to get them to buy into that course of action when the decision is made by a top management team, the result is a group of leaders who had a say in the decision process and therefore feel committed to communicating and executing the decision.
That’s not to say that team-based leadership is all roses. As anyone who has suffered through a strategic offsite can attest, group-based decision making is far slower than having a single leader call the shots. Moreover, just because the group setting allows all team members to contribute does not mean that they necessarily will. Introverted members may be reluctant to voice their insights, and extroverts may dominate discussions even if they are not the experts on a given topic. Stalemates in which group members cannot come to agreement and groupthink in which teammates fail to critique proposed courses of action can also erase the potential benefits of team-based leadership.
For leaders seeking to take advantage of the power of teams to help navigate their venture through these uncharted waters, the question that arises is how to maximize the benefits of their leadership teams while mitigating the downsides. My research suggests three components of high-functioning teams that are particularly relevant to the challenges caused by this pandemic.
1. A climate of psychological safety.
Over time, organizations develop a system of shared values and beliefs that guide the behaviors of their employees; we call this organizational culture. The same thing happens within teams, only we refer to it as team climate. What is the climate of your top management team? Is that climate helping or hindering your ability to lead in this time of crisis? Why? Odds are that your answer to those questions will involve the presence or absence of psychological safety in your team. Psychological safety refers to the extent to which team members collectively feel that they can speak up, take risks, and be creative without fear of being punished or ridiculed for doing so. Put another way, in teams with high psychological safety, team members are comfortable making themselves vulnerable to one another. A great deal of research indicates that a strong climate of psychological safety is key for high team performance, and it is not hard to understand why. Think about your current team, which is currently facing unforeseen challenges that likely require creative solutions. In developing these solutions, it is critical that all members feel comfortable sharing their unfiltered thoughts and ideas, and constructively critiquing those of others, which is what happens in teams with high psychological safety. When psychological safety is low, your team is like a racecar that is running on four of its eight cylinders, because members are holding back their boldest ideas and sharpest critiques due to fear of the consequences. Fortunately, one of the best ways to develop psychological safety in teams is for the leader to model it, and a crisis presents an opportune time for you to show some vulnerability to your team members, thereby encouraging them to do the same.
2. Healthy conflict norms.
The pressure and stress caused by the pandemic will undoubtedly lead to higher incidents of conflict within organizations and teams. All of us are just a bit more on edge than usual. Some leaders seem to feel that conflict among team members is good, or even necessary, to achieve high performance. Team conflict has been studied for decades, and the conclusion from this body of evidence is clear – most of the time, conflict hinders team functioning. To understand why it is important to consider the two main types of team conflict. Task conflict refers to disagreement among members regarding how to complete the task at hand. Relationship conflict also involves disagreement, but it emanates from interpersonal issues among team members, and typically includes tension, annoyance, and animosity. Although task conflict slows down team decision making, when it is present in small and controlled doses it can contribute to higher group performance. Relationship conflict, on the other hand, always harms team functioning and performance. The takeaway for leaders is to observe how their team handles conflict. Often, disagreements begin as task conflict and then escalate into relationship conflict. This is where leaders need to be managers and help develop norms for “healthy fighting” within their team. If those norms do not currently exist one shortcut to harness the bright side of team conflict is to publicly appoint one group member the role of assigned critic, also known as a devil’s advocate. Because this member is tasked with critiquing the rest of the team’s ideas, they can do so and in turn generate healthy task conflict without activating the interpersonal dynamics associated with relationship conflict.
3. Balance between stars and role players.
It does not take an avid sports fan to notice that oftentimes the most successful teams are not filled with star athletes, but are comprised of a mix of star performers and lesser-known “role players.” Research indicates that teams that are balanced in this way often outperform more talented teams because teamwork requires maintenance, and while not glamorous, someone has to do it. And in the face of this pandemic, this “dirty work” is more critical than ever. There is a tendency, in times of crisis, to not focus on the details as closely as usual or to let more mundane team duties pile up in the background while focusing on the immediate threat to the business. In addition, most of us are in more fragile emotional states than usual right now which can cause emotional instability within the team on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, teams that have members who are willing to roll up their sleeves and stay focused on the details, handle the mundane tasks in the midst of the crisis, and take care of the emotional needs of team members will be able to more effectively respond to the challenges that arise over the coming months and years. Put another way, in the words of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, when it comes to critical moments, leaders should “forget high flyers” and count on their consistent performers, who he has dubbed his “dependables.” So consider your current team and ask yourself who is handling the dirty work while you and your star performers tackle the big problems? Who are your dependables? If the answer is no one then you are setting yourself up for failure, or worse yet, burnout as you try to lead and micromanage at the same time.
In considering these three elements of high functioning teams in light of this crisis, you may realize that you have deficiencies in your team. Indeed, perhaps strengthening some of the weaknesses in your top management team was on your “to-do” list even before this pandemic-induced crisis. As I described above, some of these weaknesses may be addressed by making changes to your leadership behavior. But correcting other shortcomings may require changes to the membership of your team. If that is the case, there is some good news. Economic downturns present the optimal time to recruit and select top managers. With the current economic challenges hiring may be the last thing on your mind. However, by seizing opportunities to upgrade the strength of your venture team during this time of uncertainty, you will be positioning your firm to thrive in the future, no matter which “new normal” becomes reality.
 Coyle, D. (2018). The culture code: The secrets of highly successful groups. Bantam.
 Bradley, B. H., Postlethwaite, B. E., Klotz, A. C., Hamdani, M. R., & Brown, K. G. (2012). Reaping the benefits of task conflict in teams: The critical role of team psychological safety climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 151-158.
 Bolinger, A. R., Klotz, A. C., & Leavitt, K. (2018). Contributing from inside the outer circle: The identity-based effects of noncore role incumbents on relational coordination and organizational climate. Academy of Management Review, 43(4), 680-703.